Share of the Week: When Our Country Hates Our Hair

I never would have imagined that our hair would become the subject of discussions in the halls of government or an op-ed in The New York Times, but so it has.


A leaked photo (via depicting supposedly questionable hair styles.


The media, particularly is closely following fallout from proposed updates to the Army’s personal appearance and grooming policies in AR 670-1, which severely restrict how women will be allowed to wear their hair as they dedicate their lives to upholding our democracy and protecting strategic diplomatic and energy resources overseas.

According to one source, women service members may not be allowed to:

  • wear multiple braids
  • wear anything but plain headbands
  • wear twists

Of course, the regulations drew the ire of women in the service and female members of Congress who view the new rules as insensitive to and ignorant about the realities of caring for thick, ethnic hair. Don’t the policy makers have any experience at all with Black women and the lengths they go to to manage their hair before showing up at work? And even so, a line of propriety has been overstepped here. As long as these women report to their commanding officers on time, and their hair styles aren’t distracting or impractical for their helmets, why bother picking this fight?

It just smacks of racism, too. As if someone, somewhere went looking for a reason to make life harder for certain armed forces members. I read somewhere that Black female officers were part of the rule-making committee in this instance, which makes me wonder what sort of function they have in the Army. Are they among the active duty service members who need to tame their hair under a helmet while hauling around tons of gear through deserts, jungles and mountain trails, etc?

I suppose we can take some solace in the fact that tattoos will be limited as well, so that men will have to be more careful about how they carry themselves.

But even that comes as little comfort against the bigger picture — of a weird, creeping feeling that most people in the U.S. still don’t have a clue about the lives of Black women, their own fellow Americans, and that if they do know what we experience they want to trivialize it.

It used to be that Black women could carry out their love-hate relationship with their hair in private. Naturalistas love the range of looks our hair can adapt to, from teeny-weeny Afros (my current style to an array braids, bantu knots, locks, twists and twist-outs, and variations on those themes. But impatient ones like me hate the time and effort it takes to manage and groom thick, curly and often coiled and zig-zagged hair. Those who chemically straighten their hair or cover their locks in weaves and wigs could talk about how to preserve hair health while wearing the styles they want.

Now that good judgement has been taken out of our own hands and thrust into a White House petition, of all places. This is so demeaning and silly. I can only hope that actions being taken to review the policy result in something more fair and less humiliating.

What do you think of the Army’s rules, lawmakers’ responses and the media backlash?